Acpo issues 'drunk tanks' call to tackle disorder


Chief Constable Adrian Lee says public money is being used irresponsibly

Related Stories

Privately-run "drunk tanks" should be considered to tackle alcohol-fuelled disorder, police chiefs have said.

Under the idea, drunks who are a danger to themselves would be put in cells to sober up and then pay for their care.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, which is launching a campaign on alcohol harm to coincide with university freshers' season, said problem drinking was on the increase.

The Police Federation said the plan was "neither a viable nor long-term" fix.

Start Quote

This proposal throws up far more questions than answers, particularly with regards to accountability”

End Quote Steve White Police Federation of England and Wales

Northamptonshire Chief Constable Adrian Lee, who leads on the issue of problem drinking for Acpo in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, told the BBC that police cells were not the best places for people who had got so drunk they were "incapable of looking after themselves".

Nor should the taxpayer have to pick up the bill for people's drunkenness, he said.

"Why don't we take them to a drunk cell owned by a commercial company and get the commercial company to look after them during the night until they are sober?

"When that is over, we will issue them with a fixed penalty and the company will be able to charge them for their care, which would be at quite significant cost and that might be a significant deterrent."

'Sticking plaster'

Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove also recently raised the idea of introducing drunk tanks.

"Public services are a finite resource and we need to appreciate that," he said in an interview with the trade journal Police Professional.

An Acpo spokeswoman said the measure would only apply to those drunks who were a danger to themselves - those who had committed a crime would be taken to a police cell, while those who were ill would be taken to hospital.

Every Saturday night, police mop up drunken behaviour and dump people on paramedics and hospitals - all at huge cost. But once the police leave the scene, there's nothing to stop anyone walking away, assuming of course they're actually capable of doing so.

So while the idea of a place where alcopop-fuelled drunkards could crash out and wake up to a bill for enforced bed-and-breakfast looks compelling, it's just not clear how it could work in practice and in law.

Police only have limited powers to detain you - and your time in custody must be necessary and the reasons for it clear.

So where exactly, in legal terms, would people be held and under what power?

Clever lawyers could argue that time spent sobering up in a drunk tank amounted to false imprisonment and that would give the police a headache as bad as the detainee's hangover.

She said the police could not walk away from a drunk who was unable to stand as they had a duty of care but it was not the best use of police resources. As there is currently no formal proposal, Acpo did not have any details on cost or implementation.

Steve White, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents officers, said he would favour "any measure that frees up police officer time and gets them back on to the streets".

But he said: "This proposal throws up far more questions than answers, particularly with regards to accountability.

"Privately-operated drunk tanks are neither a viable nor long-term solution to binge drinking and merely represent a sticking plaster for the problem."

Start Quote

They [the police] are back on the street, where they can do the most good”

End Quote Chuck Rose Santa Barbara Sobering Center

The phrase drunk tank is an export from the US, where they are already in operation. Chuck Rose runs the Santa Barbara Sobering Center in California, which is paid for by the city council.

He said the centre's work helped the police "immensely".

"If they bring somebody and check them into our establishment, they are with us about five minutes and we take it from there," he said.

"If they have to take someone to jail, it's an hour-and-a-half of paperwork. They [the police] are back on the street, where they can do the most good."

Nearly 50% of all violent crime is alcohol-related, Acpo said, while offenders are thought to be under the influence of alcohol in nearly half of all incidents of domestic abuse, and alcohol plays a part in 25% to 33% of known child abuse cases.

Ch Insp Sue Robinson, deputy chairwoman of Acpo's alcohol harm reduction group, said: "When we should be working in local communities tackling priorities set for us, we are more than likely to be addressing drunkenness and alcohol-related crime and disorder."

'Small aspect'

The In Focus: Alcohol Harm campaign launched by Mr Lee, which will include drink-drive operations, visits to disorder "hotspots" and talks to new university students, is intended to highlight the difficulties police face in dealing with drunk people.

A woman sitting on the pavement as three police officers stand by The so-called drunk tanks are aimed at those who are a danger to themselves

Mr Lee said he was disappointed no licensing authorities had imposed charges for late-opening alcohol suppliers to help pay for policing the night-time economy, and by the government's failure to bring in a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in England and Wales.

The plans were shelved in July amid fears the change would hit responsible drinkers.

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said: "The government is taking a wide range of action to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder. This includes introducing a ban on the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol sales.

"We have given local areas the power to restrict the sale of alcohol in the early hours and ensure those who profit from a late night licence help pay towards the costs of policing."

Labour's shadow crime and security minister Diana Johnson urged caution over potential private sector involvement, in the wake of the government's discovery that two of the biggest private providers of public services - Serco and G4S - had overcharged it by tens of millions of pounds for criminal-tagging contracts.

She also said the idea of drunk tanks "could and should only be one small aspect of any proper alcohol strategy".

"The government's alcohol policy is out of touch and in disarray - dropping their minimum alcohol pricing policy, rejecting drugs and alcohol education in schools, and going ahead with an ineffective late night levy," she added.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Too many times I have heard "It wasn't my fault, I was drunk." when people plan to get so drunk that you have to be careful driving along a road because they stagger out in front of you.
    I have also heard "It wasn't his fault, he/she was drunk." when someone has killed themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I agree with Kev, the winners of this will be the companies that own the "care centres.

    Just another way for Camerons friends to get wealthier at the expense of the already struggling working class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Interesting. I agree in theory, but what happens when someone refuses to pay, and/or if they say they had a few dirnks but were not aggressive and could have returned home, then accuses the drunk tank of illegal imprisonment? TBH, i dont really know the criteria police use now to put people in cells to sleep it off, i'd be interested to know same for these tanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    There will always be the issue and risk of wrong diagnosis... someone may appear drunk but actually be suffering some symptoms of an illness. If this can be overcome safely then I am all in favour of drunk tanks. Unpleasant and financial consequences of being a drunk nuisance are more of a deterrent than a night in A&E, although some A&E departments do look like drunk tanks already!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I like the idea of having these separated out from A&E to relieve the pressure there - and the idea of a fine afterwards to cover the costs, but not in the hands of a private company. Before long, as #13 pointed out you'll end up with people slightly unsteady on their feet but causing no trouble and with enough sober friends to get them home safely being taken in as well to maximise profits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    In some towns pubs and clubs are paying increased 'taxes' to cover policing and other costs, and the government also taxes alcohol already. Surely there's enough cash in the system to cover Police operations, and the opportunity to increase it, without starting to effectively privatise our Police force.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I thought there was a crime of "drink & disorderly"? If there is, charge the drunk actual costs of policing + holding overnight. a hotel would cost about £130 per night, & with the added care, I would charge at least £250 per night. Then if there has been further crime such as fighting, a further fine of double the actual costs including court time.
    Use the money raised to fund The Police

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Alcohol is seen as the cause of 50% of violent crime? The government allows alcohol to be so widely available (compared to other less harmful substances) and now is complaining because everyone's drunk? Perhaps government could spend all that tax they've earned from alcohol on solving the problem.
    Why should revellers have to pay for the governments evidence-free drugs policies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.


    your stupidity is stunning. How successful was prohibition in the USA in the 30's? Histroy tells us that you cannot regulate a drug that can be made in the airing cupboard with a bag of sugar and a sachet of bread yeast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Suspend the licence of bars who allow reckless drinking. Stop security staff from throwing out drunks. Force the bar to pay for their night in the "welfare centre".
    If people have multiple drinks lined up within an hour of closing. Force bars to clear them away undrunk.
    The bar owners make the money. Force them to take a higher duty of care. If they won't, close them down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    You can't selectively punish people.

    If you say drunks are responsible for their own actions and should pay for any consequences of their actions then you could use the same logic to argue that fat people should pay for the NHS, and single mothers shouldn't receive any support from the government.

    Both are individuals problems, and yet are covered by society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Not only a charge for drunk tanks....How about charging for irresponsible use of an A&E dept.
    Drunks, Druggies, Brawling, DUI, self harming, Sports injuries are all self inflicted and get in the way of resources for needy cases.
    Sport injuries could be covered by insurance policies for sports likely to have a risk of injury.
    Why should pay a greater share of the NHS for reckless people

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    not really happy with this, being drunk isnt a crime, the disorderly bit comes with the brain being poisoned and dehydrated by the alcohol, Making the "victim" pay for their care isnt the answer. who decides if the person is could be a medically induced condition...this to me is just another stealth tax, the only winner a dodgy contract winner taking public money...try again CC's

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I am fully behind this idea of Police to apply law and order and not to be my nanny.
    Why should the taxpayer pay for your party?
    Haven't passed breathliser or sobriety test? Get in the van.
    Take them to a cell run by PrivatelyOwnedCareCentre and next day put the bill to them or include in their university fees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    How much will the police get paid to bring "clients" to the privately, for profit run, Drunk Hotels?

    And I don't mean, openly, I mean corruption, even cash in hand.

    I've been needlessly drunk a great deal in my life, but I have never needed the "services" of a Hotel le Drunk.

    I give it a month before the first "DRUNK TANK RAPE HELL" headline emerges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    If someone can afford to get drunk and major disorderly then they can afford to pay hefty fines. The amount of the fine should be enough to cover the full costs of all the services used in dealing with them. About time people took responsibility for their own lives. Basically it is all very straight forward, this "mamby pamby" country just needs to get on with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Drunks should also pay for the clogging up the A&E departments. I doubt the drinking age limit would be raised owing to the voting age being reduced to 18. Then of course it would probably be against their human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The relaxing of licensing laws in 2005 that lead to the extended opening hours of bars and clubs has exacerbated the problem of binge drinking. We need to reintroduce tighter limits on the opening hours of pubs and clubs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Good idea, as to Spin doctors comment about choking to death it's the person who is choking, so McDonalds lose a burger flipper who care's.
    I like to drink late I also know when it's time to call it a day

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Whatever happened to the offence of drunk and disorderly?
    Fine them big time so they cannot afford the drink and just maybe the older generation like myself will feel safer going into town centres most evenings


Page 62 of 63


More UK stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.